[Summer 1997]

by Franck Michel

This issue of CVphoto is the first in a trilogy devoted to the over­arching notion of authenticity. The growing use of digital technologies in the various fields of photography, and the upheavals this has caused, has made this debate particularly timely and essential. In this issue, we will explore more specifically the question of authenticity through the reversal of the objectivity/subjectivity paradigm.

I believe I can say that we are currently witnessing the dissolution of any possible photographic objectivity. Recent theories on photography show that Roland Barthes’s “uncoded” image, a small block stuck to its referent, is no longer possible – and that it probably never was possible. Photographic objectivity is nothing but a trap. Until the beginning of the eighties, we had largely underestimated the place of subjectivity in the photographic act, with some artists going so far as to eliminate the role of the photographer and expecting simply a photographic image that is a “mirror of the world.” However, in each of the various steps of the photographic process, the photographer instils his or her subjectivity while distancing the final image from the real. All photographic images are interpretations of reality. They contain at most a vague trace, but never an exact copy, even fragmentary.

The use of digital technologies in the photographic process digs the chasm between the image and its referent even deeper, since it effectively does away with the limitations of manipulation. Through computers, a photograph can easily be manipulated to the point that the initial reality, that of the moment when the shot was taken, becomes unrecognizable. The image then loses its relationship to reality and takes on another significance, or becomes a view from the mind1. Today, the entire sphere of photography is being hit with the “sudden awareness” of the impossibility of objectivity. Many current photographic practices exhaustively probe the question of the reversal of objectivity and subjectivity by playing with trompe l’œil, apocryphal details, false realities. And photography, a subjective construction, far from being condemned to a slow death, is being revitalized. It has become once again a huge field of exploration for artists.

In all of this upheaval, the most affected area is certainly documentary photography, which has seen its credibility slowly slip away. The phenomenon of the “doctored” image is certainly not new. We can all recall Robert Capa’s famous photograph of the (dead) soldier brandishing flag: set-ups and retouching are an integral part of the history of documentary photography. Nevertheless it is also true, beyond any theoretical consideration, that a photograph of Rwandan genocide, an incisive documentation of human barbarism, will always be distressingly authentic. The photographic image is a subjective image, it is true; this does not mean that it can no longer show, document, signify, denounce, but that it does so with a singular vision, a relative truth. And we, as viewers/readers, can no longer accept an image as a certainty; we are constantly within our rights to doubt its authenticity.

A Magazine in the Streets
In our March issue, I announced that CVphoto would be coming to the streets. Starting at the end of June a series of posters will put up on walls in the streets of Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. For this project, CVphoto has joined up with a group of ten Montreal artists – N. Amberg, P. Blache, M. Blouin, A. Chagnon, D. Hébert, S. Grégoire, M. Gingras, E. Leier, E. Quintas, and É. Tremblay– who have produced two posters (for Mois de la Photo à Montréal 1995 and for the next Fotofeis in Scotland, November 1997). A Magazine in the Streets is one in a series of initiatives that CVphoto has undertaken to increase its visibility at the same time as it promotes Quebec artists.

1 This subject will be developed further by Marcel Blouin in the text of the catalogue for the exhibition Photographie et immaterialité, to be presented during the next Mois de la Photo à Montréal in September, 1997.